Recent “unprecedented” levels of investment in children’s services have been overly focused on processes and “technical fixes”, Community Care LIVE 2010 was told.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Colin Green, chair of the families, communities and young people policy committee at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said relationship-based practice was “central to achieving effective change” and called for a shift to a “welfare model” of social care.
When questioned on whether such a model could survive in an era of public sector spending cuts, Green said: “Spending cuts have the potential to make it harder but the thing to get to grips with is that there has been huge investment over the last 10-13 years but it has gone into process arrangements. A welfare model doesn’t take more resources it just requires us to do different things.”
He agreed that little progress had been made on the issue of neglect over the past 13 years and said there had been a temptation to focus on “technical fixes because they are easy to deliver and make it look like you’re doing something”.
“We’re not focused enough on developing the workforce to do complex, difficult work better and make complex decisions, while developing public understanding about how best we might do these things.
“Taking a child into care is one of the weightiest decisions anyone can ever make. It is right that that decision is subject to rigorous consideration. But social workers need to be given the confidence and respect to make decisions based on their own experience.”
Enver Solomon, of the policy research unit at Barnardo’s, said current approaches in social work were better at dealing with single, serious incidents, rather than persistent abuse like neglect. Solomon cited research which showed “a ‘rule of optimism’ in decision making” when determining whether a child should be removed from their family.
Green agreed and said there was a “misconception that care doesn’t work”, adding that “this is not helped by having indicators which make crude comparisons with children outside of care”.
“It’s like comparing pears with apples,” he said. “These indicators don’t look at the value added. I get angry when people talk about ‘poor outcomes’ because those children are often carrying issues they entered care with. The problem is not care. We need a much more nuanced discussion about the benefits of care and what care can and cannot fix.”